Sunday, July 16, 2006
"Bombed but not Bowed"
This was the headline in the Times of India front page story about the deadly blasts in Mumbai, which were targeted at first class compartments in the main commuter train in the city, which are mostly occupied by businessmen, doctors, and lawyers. It was the 8th such attack in Mumbai in a dozen years, and followed only days after heavy monsoon rains that again taxed the city to its limits. (Despite last year's devastating monsoons, the government has continued to release vacant land to building, and has done literally nothing else to improve the situation--in fact, had this year's rainfall been as severe as last year's 90 cm in 24 hours, the results would have been even worse). Because of the lack of even basic emergency support services in Mumbai, volunteers leaped to assist and people near the train brought sheets and blankets to wrap the injured and dead, while others helped transport them to hospitals. In video clips right after the disaster which we watched in Agra, you could see ordinary people frantically working while the police wander around aimlessly.
Initially both cell and landlines were out, but these were quickly restored and in fact within hours all normal activity resumed. Despite a headline in a local magazine proclaiming "Mumbai 7/11", there is no overwhelming aftermath here such as 9/11 saw in the U.S.---it's more like the scene in Israel when there are attacks by suicide bombers. Still, the local papers and magazines are filled with vignettes of those who lost their lives, or nearly did---a man who had only started traveling first class the week before, another who evidently died on the way home to celebrate his birthday, etc. But, otherwise, it's business as usual in Mumbai. A few hundred suspects have been rounded up and the Indian government is narrowing in on the perpetrators, most likely Kashmiris with links to Al Queda. In Chennai, IT buildings were put on "red alert" at least over the weekend and there are delays at the airports, but these are the only visible signs we have seen of heightened concern.
I was in Agra and as noted below, we visited the Taj Mahal for a "moonlight viewing" ---but as you can tell from the picture at the right, the weather did not cooperate and the moon was heavily shrouded in rain clouds. Security was extremely tight---you are put through two metal detectors and can bring only a camera (not even a tripod) --and can only go just past the first gates for the viewing. A couple of the people with us decided not to go under these circumstances, since they had never seen the Taj before and wanted it to be in the best light, so to speak. That I understand completely. When you are past the security, your first sighting of this magnificent monument is the one that does take your breath away. Fortunately, several in our group were not leaving until later the following morning, so they were able to visit the Taj at dawn as I did a few months ago.